Newsflash: Charleston isn't the center of the moviemaking universe. We don't have Wilmington's soundstages, LA's production infrastructure, or New Orleans' progressive tax breaks. So it's no surprise that according to the Screen Actors Guild, no major movies are presently lensing in this state and none are planned for the near future.
Anyone who's spent more than five minutes in the presence of a Hollywood producer would agree it's a good thing that we're off the big studios' radar. Yet a great deal of movie crewmembers and actors live here, working on projects nationwide while retaining their Chucktown homes.
Now a new group of producers plans to tap into the local talent pool and develop projects locally. They're director Craig Hadley, animator Kem Welch, ad men Rich Carnahan and Eric Vincent, and independent producer Richard Almes. Combined, they make up the Charleston-based Gryphonpix Entertainment.
All five are seasoned businessmen, approaching the venture from a commercial standpoint rather than that of a starry-eyed bunch making pretty movies for fun. There ain't much that's pretty in their first feature film. The Interview is an unabashedly torrid tale of kidnapping, serial murder, and revenge that's as upfront about its selling points as any Bruckheimer bunkum.
"The group read The Interview and said it was the perfect first screenplay for them," says Hadley, who wrote the film and is directing it. "Our experienced Hollywood production manager Peter Wentworth said it was very marketable." But instead of going ahead and shooting it, GPX bided its time, letting the project simmer for nine months before bringing it to a boil.
"We decided to shoot a prepromotional trailer," Hadley explains, "showing some of the minor characters and the action they do that's integral to the story." As the main characters haven't been cast yet, that gave local actors Michael Easler, Trevor Erickson, and Myra Denue a chance to shine in a martial arts sequence and a "sexy erotic dance" scene. The week-long shoot cost about $3,000 and enabled investors and the press to watch GPX at work, "so they could visit a film set and see that this is the real deal, not some guy with a camcorder and two flashlights."
The filmmakers squeezed as many bells and whistles as they could into their promo, inviting respected Director of Photography Andy Montejo up from Orlando with a Steadicam rig to shoot the action. The hard work paid off — GPX landed a couple of investors and is on its way to securing a $675,000 budget for The Interview. Principal photography starts in January of next year, whether the cash is all there or not.
In order to offset costs and give their project a bigger-budget sheen, the founders have called in a lot of favors. Montejo visited Charleston on his own dime, bringing his equipment and camera assistant as a favor to his old friend Hadley. Vincent storyboarded the scenes. Almes convinced local facility company PDA to light the set and provide more equipment. It seems that the partners' contacts and resources make up for any shortfalls in blockbuster movie-making experience.
GPX has tapped into another resource — the network of filmmakers frustrated with having to constantly travel out of state. From Trident Tech students to veteran independent producers like Wentworth, they share a passion for moviemaking that makes them eager to lend a hand (or a spare camera).
With the teaser trailer wrapped, the group will spend the rest of the year securing investors, educating them about South Carolina's film-related tax incentives and the profitability of features. Even a box office flop stands a reasonable chance of recouping its costs on DVD — it just might take a while. For impatient backers, there are other ways to distribute a film; the internet has opened up a whole new way to separate movie buffs from their moolah as video streaming and downloading hardware improves.
"For $5, people will be able to view our film on the net," says Hadley. "For $20 they can get a downloadable version to burn onto disk, and for a bit more they can order a professionally packaged DVD. That's where the real money is."
Without a finished product, GPX is focusing on awareness-raising and developing other films, from the family-friendly Abra-Ca-Diaper to Chainsaw Nuns. And while the money-minded Gryphon guys are shooting their movie on HD video to keep costs down, the creative part of their job brightens their business dealings.
"I'm living a lifelong dream," says Rich Carnahan, sounding like a giddy schoolboy on summer break. "Who doesn't want this kind of opportunity?"
Carnahan's determined to extend that opportunity to the entire local community. "You shouldn't want to make movies by yourself. A lot of skeptics out there say we can't do this because it hasn't been done like this before, or that so many people have tried to do this and failed." Carnahan admits that it's been difficult to get a good start because of that skepticism. "But people want this to work, it'll do good for the area, provide them with jobs. We're genuinely excited about making movies; we talk about it every day."